Annan warns over Falluja assault


6 November, 2004

LONDON (Reuters) - The government says U.N. chief Kofi Annan can "say what he wants" about Iraq, but it is up to the interim government in Baghdad to decide whether to launch an assault on Falluja.

The U.N. secretary-general wrote to the leaders of the United States, Britain and Iraq urging them not to attack the rebel-held town of Falluja, drawing a rebuke from Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi who called the letter "confused".

A Foreign Office spokesman said on Friday Prime Minister Tony Blair had received Annan's letter.

"He's is allowed to say what he wants. But nevertheless we listen to the Iraqi government in this respect," he said. "Falluja is a matter for the government of Iraq."

"It is easy for people not in Iraq to underestimate the overwhelming concern that the Iraqis themselves have for their security. So you cannot have an area as big as Falluja which is allowed to be a base for terrorism."

According to the Los Angeles Times, which obtained a copy of the letter, Annan wrote: "The threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation of certain communities, but would also reinforce perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued military occupation."

In an interview with BBC radio, Allawi made clear he had little patience for the U.N. chief's attempt to intervene.

"It was a confused letter, really, and message that I got from him. It's not clear to me, and we are now seeking clarification," Allawi said. "We don't know exactly what his intentions are. We don't know whom he means. It was a very unclear message."

Allawi said Iraq was required to depend on American firepower because insurgents could still outgun the nascent Iraqi army. Annan's letter offered no alternative plan to deal with rebels, he said.

"I don't know what he means by 'not to attack', or 'to attack'. What are the substitutes? I don't know what pressure he has to bear on the insurgents. If he can stop the insurgents from inflicting damage and killing Iraqis then he is welcome."